February 28, 2011

More "evolutionary" explanations based on studies of American college students

This time the ridiculous speculation is delivered from Eric Johnson, a Columbia University business psychologist, on seemingly irrational loss aversion and its role in slowing the recovery of the housing market, via David Kestenbaum of NPR. Johnson thinks that the risk of "leopards in trees" in days past conditions this behavior among American homeowners. The problem is that, like the recent study of tears and sexual desire, and all kinds of other crazy theories, the research subjects were all American college students! If there were some comparable data on loss aversion from societies around the world, especially, in this case, some relatively egalitarian ones, I might begin to entertain a role for some evolutionary adaptation. Otherwise, I'm going to assume that the cultural logic of capitalism is the operative framework here.

Posted by John Norvell at 8:08 PM | Category: Evolutionary Psychology Madness | permalink
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April 15, 2009

the new BMW pizza boy's car

BMW's new car really resonates with Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash; it would be a great vehicle to delivery pizzas for the Mafia in, don't you think? :-)

bmw.jpg

Posted by John Norvell at 4:09 PM | Category: Cyberanthropology | permalink
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Twitter and Morality

Thanks to my student Liz for this link:

"Scientists warn of Twitter dangers"

I think that Twitter per se is a strange focus for this concern, which is far broader and implicated in many forms of contemporary media. In the online world, many different surfing habits and affordances of information exposure move at a speed and a casualness that if worrisome. I'm not even sure that Twitter would rank very high on the list though.

Posted by John Norvell at 11:24 AM | Category: Cyberanthropology | permalink
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March 5, 2009

Craiglist and Prostitution

Watching the documentary film 24 Hrs on Craigslist, we (students and I) always wonder how that amount of illegal activity, especially in the sex area, can happen. Apparently in Cook County, IL, the sheriff is starting to wonder the same thing:

"Craigslist to be sued for sex ads"

Posted by John Norvell at 11:33 AM | Category: Cyberanthropology | permalink
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February 2, 2009

bash-completion! (context...)

Good lord. After fifteen years as a Linux user, I finally discovered the package and configuration that adds smart context awareness to bash command-line completion. Why doesn't my distribution make this automatic? Who wouldn't want this? I used to want it every day without knowing it existed. For example,

cd . . .
Why should I get tab completion suggestions for every file in the directory, as opposed to just directories that I could actually cd to? Or:
acrobat . . .
Should it just suggest pdf files? Well, yes, actually, but in Gentoo there are a bunch of steps to configure bash to do these intelligent things, and somehow I never stumbled across them before.

Posted by blogadmin at 10:09 AM | Category: Technology | permalink
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November 12, 2008

Probably a stupid thing...

I just did probably a stupid thing, which is to stick my two cents into an online student forum at another campus here at Claremont on a controversial issue seemingly in defense of an ultra-right-wing student with, I'm now learning, a long reputation for offensive speech. Oh well. Life has been too calm lately. What I weighed in on was not the content of the debate (gay marriage) but the fact that 74 comments followed a post by this student which had been promptly deleted by the editor of the forum as "discriminatory" and "misleading". It was the first response to a funny little satirical piece in support of gay marriage that was quite provocative and "offensive," in a way.

There is something too sanctimonious to resist about students (and sometime faculty) who rise up to attack offensive speech, with complete freedom to lay out their arguments at great length on the premise that the original speech should not have been uttered, should be censored and removed from sight. Is there no gratitude for the opportunity? The editor and other forum staff returned several times to the ensuing debate, even quoting from the deleted post and on two occasions interpolating their opinions into the posts of the student. For me, as a scholar and fan of the Net, this is beyond the pale for an editor of such a forum.

I'm very sympathetic to arguments about a hostile environment for women, gay people, racial minorities, etc. and steps to protect them. But a self-styled campus "forum" in which an offensive statement such as this receives a rousing shout-down hardly establishes such an environment. And as several students argued on the forum, there is no right not to be offended by anybody else.

We really need public, accountable forums around campus for good, open debates. This student site could be one, and I have learned interesting facts and read well-argued opinion there in the recent past. But assuming such a role implies more civic responsibility than was exercised in this thread, anyway.

One follow-up to my post, challenged my "net-cred"...

i just don’t see a pitzer prof coming in to defend an arch-conservative cmc student without knowing the contents of his post.

...which is really the main reason I'm making this blog entry. Yes, I am who I say and I really did this probably stupid thing.

PS: It's also true that I do not know contents of the deleted post, beyond the wrong-headed but not "hateful" passages quoted by the editor in his justification. I also know that it was quickly labeled "homophobic" by Pitzer students I heard from. This, unfortunately, can mean anything.

Posted by John Norvell at 11:28 PM | Category: Academe | permalink
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October 7, 2008

MS Windows is unbearable

I don't know why anyone who had a choice would put Windows on a computer used for public presentations. Every single powerpoint talk I have seen this semester has been marred by a nagging popup continually asking for a restart for whatever upgrade Windows had to download that day to fix some new security breach or flaw. Watching tonight's Presidential Debate in the Gold Student Center, we had to wait about eight times for someone to find the mouse and dismiss the window and reset the live videocast. There really doesn't seem to be anywhere to tell Windows not to bother us again with that warning.

Posted by John Norvell at 7:30 PM | Category: Technology | permalink
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Entomology Major for Pitzer?

Since the end of August, the local populations of black widows (and also a lot of what I now know to be Steatoda grossa, the introduced European "false black widow") seem to have exploded. We have killed many on our stone-walled patio and along the outer corridor of our building. They seem especially partial to enclosed, wood-slat benches in the alcoves, making the students a tad nervous. Numerous extermination attempts have reduced their numbers, but I still see them everyday at Pitzer and Scripps and our friends' homes in Claremont. (The false ones are only mildly poisonous and prey on true black widows, so I guess I should look more closely before I squish and spray.)

Here's the one that kicked off the action for us back in August:

juvenile_black_widow_scaled.jpg

And a zoomed-in view:

juvenile_black_widow_closeup.jpg

Yesterday, I saw this tarantula sauntering down the sidewalk between Mead Hall and the Grove House. These Aphonopelma species are all around this area, but no one can remember seeing one in town. I guess they mostly get squished by cars or killed by pets. I captured this one and released it the Claremont Wilderness. (Actually, some friends made the dropoff and say they saw another one on the road on the way. Like with the black widows, is this an OUTBREAK? An Arachnophobia-type event? Stand by for updates....) The sighting and capture created quite a stir among Mead residents! Oliver (our nearly-three-year-old) loved it and instantly added a tarantula-walk imitation to his growing repertoire.

pitzer_tarantula.jpg

Ready for transport:

pitzer_tarantula_transport.jpg

Posted by John Norvell at 5:18 PM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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May 19, 2008

Lúcio Flávio Pinto

Excellent article in this past Sunday's Los Angeles Times on this journalist from Pará and his struggle to report on corruption and environmental destruction in this near-feudal Amazonian Brazil state.

Posted by John Norvell at 5:58 PM | Category: Latin America | permalink
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November 15, 2007

Cheney sisters insult Scripps students

Liz and Mary Cheney gave a joint speech this evening in a "Public Affairs" lecture series funded by a trustee with an interest in bringing to campus "diverse ideas about public policy" or something like that, i.e., the occasional conservative. The address itself was a ridiculous and patronizing string of anecdotes about life on the campaign trail with not a single political idea in sight. (There was a lot of appreciative laughter, though, so maybe students didn't notice the affront.) In Q&A (more below), Mary (the lesbian) handled the predicatable but very real and meaningful question about why she would support a party that doesn't support gay rights: "Oh, I've never heard that one before! How original!" she chuckled. (Her answer: because national security is the most important issue facing our country, and I vote on that basis. Followup that never came because of the format (see below): So when the terrorist threat has subsided you'll vote for Democrats?

Liz, the Middle East specialist and former State Dept. official, handled most of the rest, including questions on a solution to Iraq and waterboarding/torture, with intelligence, giving snippets of the public affairs talk she could have given. And then defended herself, probably quite well, against real questions. She gave pretty much the Party line, not surprising for someone currently advising Fred Thompson's campaign.

There was a lot of concern coming from Pitzer College faculty in the week leading up to the event owing to the impression that only pre-screened questions would be put to the speakers. The Scripps Faculty Executive Committee issued a statement expressing their desire for open questions, but there was never any explanation given to the Scripps community of how questions would be handled and why. Students had submitted questions to a box in the mailroom during the preceding week, and note cards and pencils were handed out by a small army of Scripps students, some of which were seen to arrive in the hand of Prof. Dillon, who read questions from the front row. This in the same auditorium where for other events ushers happily scurry up and down the rows with wireless mikes so people can ask questions.

The main interest from a free speech/academic freedom perspective is that questions be freely put. There are some advantages to having questions collected and read. A conscientious reader can make sure a full or representative range of questions is posed. One can avoid the long-winded questions and monopolistic follow-ups that everyone hates, and questions can be read clearly and perhaps slightly rephrased for clarity. It can thus lead to more questions being asked.

On the other hand, there is something more viscerally democratic about a speaker facing a real person asking a question in their own voice. Sometimes, like with the gay rights question to Mary, a followup is absolutely needed. And, more important, potentially controversial questions can be rephrased in a way that de-fangs them totally, as tonight, when the torture question went something very much like,"With the Mukasey hearings, the issue of torture and waterboarding is on many people's minds, and do have anything to say about all that?"

It is a shame that the talk was so bad, so bland, and that the Scripps administration didn't grab a "teachable moment" and at least clarify and defend their apparent departure from normal protocol for speakers on the campus.

Posted by John Norvell at 10:36 PM | Category: Academe | permalink
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November 7, 2007

No, what's your real residence?

One problem with living on campus that we have discovered is that the institutional address confuses many people and causes problems. The Los Angeles Times won't bring our morning paper to the apartment. Instead, I have to paw through the stacks of papers left outside the mail room, and sometimes others beat me to it. Another issue, it seems, is pricing. We recently had a Sunday birthday party for Oliver, which we had "at home," that is to say, at the student center in the next building. Leda ordered one of those bouncy, inflatable jump-room things and was quoted a price for the rental over the phone. When it arrived and they saw that it was a "school," they jacked up the price by 25%. As if Pitzer College students were going to be bouncing in it. As if we had some institutional budget for the affair or were using it for a fundraiser. Who knows what market logic goes into their pricing scheme? "This is where we live," Leda said and I repeated on the phone a couple of days later. "This is our residence. It was a private party." No joy. MEGAZONE INC. of Santa Fe Springs, CA ripped us off. (I'll erase this last sentence if they send us a refund check and say they're very very sorry.)

Posted by John Norvell at 11:17 AM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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November 1, 2007

Two Talks

George Lipsitz gave a media studies talk at Pitzer this week, "FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK:
Popular Music and the Fierce Urgency of Now." He started with some passionate but vague exhortations to get engaged and active now, followed by nearly an hour of music video clips. Nice music, but all we were led to see was a kind of watered-down Black Atlantic hybridity.

Later that evening, an excellent and funny talk by Walter Benn Michaels on his latest book, The Trouble with Diversity. Despite good publicity, Michaels was up against Bono speaking across campus, and the audience was small. He adapted his major claims about diversity and its distractiing effect from issues of real (i.e., class-based, for Michaels) inequality to Scripps, hosting the talk in its "Unequal We Stand" series. You lull yourselves into a liberal identity based on identity politics while really being a conservative or even reactionary force, he said. He proposed no more actual solutions than in the book, but in response to questions he argued that the best academics can do is to admit this and stimulate more public discussion of America's growing inequality.

Posted by John Norvell at 7:28 PM | Category: Academe | permalink
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October 19, 2007

Ten Canoes

I finally got around to watching Ten Canoes, the 2006 Australian film shot with Aboriginal actors speaking Ganalbingu (with a English voice-over narrating part of it). It is filmed in Arnhem Land, where it depicts pre-contact Aboriginal society. It involves a goose-hunting trip through the swamps during which a younger brother covetous of his elder brother's youngest wife is told an ancient and tragic story about faithfulness and loyalty in a similar situation. Many of the scenes of the film are recreations of 1930s photos by anthropologist Donald Thomson, one of which - ten men poling canoes through a swamp - was the inspiration for film. I'm not too sure where the tale comes from, although director seems to imply, in response to the white-guy-makes-films-about-Aboriginal-culture criticisms in some interviews, that the actors created or retold it.

It is a charming and beautifully shot film and I enjoyed it very much. It seemed reasonable enough as a fictional depiction of a hunter-gatherer/foraging way of life, and the story is dramatic and engaging.

Some scholarly blog posts from earlier in the year when most people watched it are here:

The Material World
Transient Languages and Cultures
Savage Minds

and see the the IMDB and the (pretty lousy, as of 10/19/07) Wikipedia entries.

It is reminiscent of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, another indigenous language film with a similar theme.

It is available on Netflix.

Posted by John Norvell at 10:36 PM | Category: Popular Culture | permalink
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October 15, 2007

Radio Black Hole

Surrounded as we are by cement and steel, we get the worst radio reception ever in the apartment. Even with a tv rabbit ears plugged into the stereo, the best NPR option is very static-y. We overslept this morning because our clock radio gave us nothing. We switched to one of the "sounds of nature" settings. I'm hoping that our Time Warner cable will give us radio stations, but I suspect that that formerly free little perk is gone with the winds of corporate greed. Maybe not. I'll dig a coax splitter out of storage and try it tomorrow. We don't even get the Claremont Colleges station, for crying out loud, and the tower is maybe 500 yards away. Maybe we can get them to hide an antenna or a booster or something in the rooftop garden!

The Los Angeles Times hasn't figured out how to find us yet; the paper is still going to the Brighton Park apartment every morning, despite two calls to circulation. I think the call center must be in Bangalore, so my detailed descriptions aren't helping very much!

Posted by John Norvell at 11:09 PM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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Bottle Rocket

Almost every student we talk to asks us how we're handling life in the dorm and particularly the noise. I think things may get louder as students in our first-year complex relax more and start breaking in the space. Right now, with the last bits of construction still happening all around and the fresh and uninviting landscaping, habits haven't really been forged yet. We hear people on the stairs outside our living room quite well and also the occasional conversation right in front of our door. We can almost always hear people out and about, but so far it's not bothered us. Last Friday there was a very loud dance party just across the sidewalk, and we didn't sleep (or even try) until it was over, but it stopped right on schedule or even a bit before (1 a.m. quiet hours on weekends).

The only real annoyance so far was this evening, when I was out after dinner kicking a ball around with Oliver and a green bottle rocket came whistling right over our heads from a Mead Hall dorm room across the street and exploded against the elevator shaft in the corner of North and East Sanborn. It could easily have a) hit someone, b) gone right into someone's room and then (a), c) ignited the mulch which is everywhere, d) landed on the roof and smoldered a while, or e) gone over the building and burned down the Outback and probably the beloved Grove House as well.

Other than that little blip of mind-boggling immaturity, we've had a great time. Oliver gets two or three baby-sitting propositions an hour while he's outside.

There was a Horned Grebe in the pool all day today, diving forlornly for non-existent fish. He was gone at dark.


pitzer_duck_1.jpg


pitzer_duck_2.jpg

Posted by John Norvell at 10:03 PM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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October 2, 2007

Only in America?

I can't stop laughing long enough to draw any scholarly conclusions from this North Carolina tale, the gist of which is that a man stored his amputated leg inside a barbecue smoker which he then lost when he got behind on his storage locker payments. The buyer, who turned the leg over to police who then gave it to a funeral home, wants it back as his lawful property because he wants to charge people to see it during Halloween season. The leg's original "owner" (?!?!) says it should be returned to him because he wants to be buried a whole man. It would be more interesting if he could make an argument about the inalienability of body parts, but it looks like the fight will be carried out in the domain of property rights.

A BBC report on the case, remarkably straight-faced, is here.

Posted by John Norvell at 10:30 AM | Category: Politics & World Events | permalink
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September 27, 2007

Green light, moving day

We have finally been given the green light to plan a move into our new dorm apartment in Sanborn North, four weeks into the semester and a month and a half after we originally expected to be in. The final batch of students are moving in tomorrow and we'll follow over the weekend. The other faculty-in-residence will be stuck in Brighton Park for another few weeks and the hall directors even later, I think. At the dedication earlier this week, I almost choked on my lemonade when guest Ed Begley Jr. said that after seeing the construction in April he never thought Pitzer would make it but they did. Ahem. Sort of. Mostly. Anyway, we know the College has tried their best. We will be ever so happy to be out of temporary digs and into the new dorm apartment.

I discovered more future neighbors; a bunch of the first-year students in my Intro to Sociocultural Anthropology course at Scripps live in Sanborn North and are looking forward to convenient consultations about papers and exams.

Posted by John Norvell at 11:11 PM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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September 14, 2007

Dorm life postponed

I thought that by now my new position as Faculty-Spouse-in-Residence in one of the new Pitzer dorms (Sanborn North) would have me back in the blogging rhythm. My wife and I accepted the gig last Spring. We found renters for our condo and headed to Brazil for the summer. Originally, we expected our apartment to be ready in early July, so we'd come back and move right in. Construction got behind and our date was bumped to August 20. Ok. We'll arrive back from Brazil and go on vacation for a week, come back and move right in. Wrong. Only one of the four dorm wings made it for the arrival of the new students, and only the student rooms. They've now moved a bunch more students in, including in our building, but all the common areas and our apartment and basically anything not a student room are still not finished. We've had a bunch of other half-hearted estimates from the Dean of Students, but he no longer has much confidence in the contractor's dates. So, the new students are busy forging culture and habits and stories while we sit up in a College-rented apartment across the street. I've met exactly two of our new dorm-mates, in line for the salad bar at the end of Orientation Week. Stay tuned in this category, because sooner or later we'll be moving into our new apartment.

(The "faculty spouse" thing is because I am now a visiting Assistant Professor across the street at Scripps College.)

Posted by John Norvell at 10:52 PM | Category: Life in the Dorm | permalink
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June 2, 2007

US Pilots and Brazilian controllers indicted

In the case I blogged about last week, both US pilots and four controllers were indicted for their roles in last September's fatal Gol crash. i read about it here, but I'm sure it was briefly noted in all the major outlets. The indictment was filed in the town nearest the crash, but I don't know if the trial will be there as well. Hmm.

Posted by John Norvell at 3:25 PM | Category: Latin America | permalink
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May 30, 2007

Anthro majors gone wild!

I showed "24 Hours on Craiglist" to my Life Online class last week, a film our a/v guy handed to me that morning and which I had not pre-screened. It's great.

One of the Craigslisters interviewed was a young woman who explained that after graduation and her discovery that no jobs awaited her, she had decided to sell her services as a "wife" to gay men on Craiglist. "What did you major in?", she was asked. "Anthropology." Ack!

Happy, then, I was to find this profile of someone who found/created a good job for herself with a B.A. in the field: Sarah Rich

Another Sarah, Sarah Thibault, was mentioned in yesterday's L.A. Times piece on gutter punks in the Haight-Ashbury district. Thibault pulled herself out of said gutter, majored in anthropology at SF State and now works at an assistance center in the Haight.

Posted by John Norvell at 9:17 AM | Category: Teaching | permalink
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A rare non-anti-Chavez op-ed

Today's L.A. Times has an amazing rarity: an op-ed piece that doesn't lament Hugo Chavez's non-renewal of Venezuelan tv station RCTV as a blow to "freedom of the press." Under the (print) headline "Chavez didn't start this media war," journalist Bart Jones reminds us of the role this station played in the 2002 coup attempt.

Posted by John Norvell at 8:58 AM | Category: Latin America | permalink
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May 9, 2007

American pilots blamed for Gol crash

According to this BBC report, the Federal Police have recommended criminal prosecution of the two American pilots involved in the mid-air collision that killed 154 people last September. The article cites their being unaware that their transponder was malfunctioning as the source of their culpability (and not, apparently, flying at an altitude different from that of their original flight plan). Certainly in a US civil proceeding, this would be worth some small percent of contributory negligence, but they are facing serious criminal charges in Brazil.

Anyone who has followed the myriad revelations over the last eight months of utter confusion; repeated, sometimes near-fatal errors; poor morale; and ridiculous pay and work conditions of Brazilian air traffic controllers (who work under the Air Force) must wonder whether the pilots can get a fair trial as the Brazilian government reels from controller scandal. On the scale of blame, it would seem that the controllers who erroneously cleared the American pilots to fly at the incorrect 37,000 ft altitude plus the several others who subsequently failed to notice the mistake plus the poorly implemented radar and radio system that prevented contact with the pilots until it was too late, bear the brunt of it. Barring radio contact with some tower which noticed the transponder was not transponding, I don't know how they would have known that or how they could be blamed for the deaths because of this. I think that in the civil lawsuits already filed in American courts evidence of the past year's massive incompetence in Brazilian air traffic control will result in minor contributory guilt at most, but I confess to little confidence that a nationalistic Brazilian criminal jury will think the same way.

Posted by John Norvell at 1:46 PM | Category: Latin America | permalink
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May 5, 2007

Benchmarks versus timeline

"Benchmarks" mean points in time when we can blame the Iraqis for their hellish situation; "timeline" means a point in time when we can finally all agree the Bush strategy was a total disaster.

Posted by John Norvell at 8:23 PM | Category: Politics & World Events | permalink
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Street Sense

Our tax preparer (!), a month ago, said Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby. We spent the first of half of the race smugly happy our hundred dollars stayed in the bank account and the second half disappointedly spending our non-existent $450 winnings in our heads.

Posted by John Norvell at 8:20 PM | Category: Popular Culture | permalink
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Panderers or Morons?

At the risk of mystifying science and confirming stereotypes of a contemptuous elite, I have to say that Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, and Tom Tancredo are either shameless panderers to the religious right or just three more garden variety morons. Unless, of course, they've got some brilliant, paradigm-breaking theory of biology up their sleeves.

Posted by John Norvell at 8:13 PM | Category: Popular Culture | permalink
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April 27, 2007

Speaking of Democrats...Setting Up the "Iraqi government" to take the blame.

As much as I like seeing the Bushies get kicked in teeth, the reigning rhetoric from the Democrats about the reasons for a withdrawal of troops is right in line with the idea that responsibility for fixing the mess has now been passed to a sovereign Iraqi government, and that a timetable is needed to pressure it into "stepping up" and those other ridiculous phrases. I happen to believe that the so-called Pottery Barn theory of you-broke-you-fix-it is essentially right and if the current strategy - even though it is the result of a totally illegal and immoral war for which our nation's leadership should be jailed - had a prayer of working, it should be continued until peace and stability are achieved. It's pretty obvious that the only route to this would be an internationally sanctioned and regionally comprised peace plan, with the US footing the bill. Since this is not happening, our presence is clearly only making things worse. I think the US rushed though Iraqi elections basically to have a fall guy for the inevitable failure, and I cannot forgive most mainstream Dems for falling right into this line of argument.

Posted by John Norvell at 3:35 PM | Category: Politics & World Events | permalink
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Cynical about the White House View of the Political Process

Yesterday's pronouncement from acting White House spokesperson Dana Perino was one of the more cynical things I've heard from this administration. The appropriate response should have been howls of derision, but so far the Democrats have been too polite for this kind of reaction. Perino suggested that since Congress knew Bush would veto a war spending bill with a timetable, they have an obligation to instead give him a bill he can sign. Say what? They have an obligation to vote their own consciences and the will of their constituents, in some ambiguous proportion. Letting Bush take the heat for a veto is not only permissible but exactly what I expect from my representatives.

Posted by John Norvell at 3:26 PM | Category: Politics & World Events | permalink
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April 23, 2007

Wikipedia & Virgina Tech

The New York Times today published the most positive piece on Wikipedia I think I've seen. It is impressive how a totally ad hoc community of editors and writers can come together to work so hard and quickly that they produce an article which becomes a main reference in climate of rapidly changing news. Looking through the last 500 changes, I saw a few cases of vandalism, but fewer than normal, it seemed to me.

Posted by John Norvell at 6:22 PM | Category: Cyberanthropology | permalink
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Um, Dear Mr. President

George W. today said, "I strongly believe that politicians in Washington should not be telling generals how to do their jobs."

That would be civilian control of the military, and if you're strongly opposed to that, you should be impeached. Their words, anyway, suggest that if they knew then what they know now, Congress would never have voted to approve your illegal war in the first place, and this is as close as Congress can get to ending a war that was never officially declared. Besides, no one is telling generals how to do their job but rather whether to do their jobs. I.e., the power to declare war. Too bad you slept through your civics class.

Posted by John Norvell at 6:06 PM | Category: Politics & World Events | permalink
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April 13, 2007

Don Imus

This column in the L. A. Times this week was probably the best thing I read on the Don Imus "nappy-headed hos" incident. I don't share much of Constance Rice's admiration for him - I think he's an idiot - but she's right about the racist self-parody that is the hip-hop industry these days. This particular combination of "nappy" and "ho" is undeniably racist, out of anyone's mouth and in any context. Separately, however, they should make us think about the circulation of racial signifiers.

I could be off base here, but I know "nappy" almost exclusively through the literary and theatrical production of black women. I remember seeing on stage a warm, thoughtful monologue called "Nappy Edges" some years ago, for example. It is term of calm and grounded self-affirmation in the documentary A Question of Color. For me, at least, it has none of the historical racist effect of "woolly" or other such adjectives. As a white man, however, I often feel a sense that the highly visible and visually provocative performative genre that is contemporary black female hairstyle is off limits to me, as a white man, for comment or even notice. And it's difficult to imagine a context in which I would feel comfortable saying "nappy," outside of quotation marks, to describe anything but an old sweater!

"Ho," of course, is the stock-in-trade of rapper lyrics. Anyone who has seen the wonderful and disturbing history of images of blacks in American popular culture presented in Marlon Riggs' Ethnic Notions can't help but see the gangster rapper as just the latest awful stereotype linked to the deepest fears and anxieties in the American psyche.

It's conceivable that Imus was trying to pay a backhanded complement to an intimidating basketball team through an unfortunate amalgam of black feminist identity play and the images that black hip-hip artists sell to the public as a representation of African-American culture. Out of his mouth, probably not, and I'm not sorry to see him off the air, but analyzed as an intertextual moment in a complex web of racism, identity, and capitalism, Imus' sin is not so simple to understand and judge.

Posted by John Norvell at 10:16 AM | Category: Popular Culture | permalink
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